Robert B. Livingston
February 28, 2005
Professionalism and Conscience Go Hand In Hand
Part Two of Richard D. Heffner's conversation with Fred Friendly begins and ends with a discussion of integrity in journalism.
Friendly rejects the idea that contemporary journalism lacks good journalists by citing the integrity of Bill Moyers, Francis X. Klines, and Jack Nelson.
For those who suspect that they are engaging with unscrupulous journalists Friendly advises that they politely request to record interviews for themselves to insure that they won't be misquoted.
Friendly discusses the role and importance of journalists in society. Quoting Walter Lippman he says that "the journalist's job is to portray a picture of reality on which the citizen can act."
He relates democracy and an informed public by recalling how his mother told him one false thing in her life when she said that "What you don't know can't hurt you."
"She was wrong," he says. "What we don't know as a nation and as a citizen can kill us."
Friendly does not apologize for being an elitist: "Just as people will prefer junk food if that is all they get, they will prefer junk news if that is all they get. And that is dangerous for democracy."
Friendly laments falling standards at PBS due to its need to raise money. For him, the name of Public Television is a poor substitute for Educational Television because it obscures its nobler mission.
He reiterates (from Part One) how bankers control television to the detriment of its power to educate and improve people's lives. "Television has become a midway, a Coney Island," he says, "something that almost everyone in it is ashamed of-- but it makes money. Not good enough for me."
As an aside, Friendly discusses the role of television cameras in the courtroom. (He believed that if used responsibly they should be there, the Supreme Court included.)
Because they confuse news with make-believe, Friendly reveals that he would get rid of docudramas if he were granted his wish.
Friendly describes the most expressive question in journalism and how he used it while he was at CBS: "How do we know that?"
He says that if his subordinates could not answer that well enough to satisfy him, then a story would not go on the air.
The program ends with Friendly's thoughts about the Fairness Doctrine which he summarizes as the need for TV and radio to do programs of public importance, and to do them fairly.
"What's wrong with that?" he says. "You do not need a law to make a fairness doctrine work: what you need is a conscience."